This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Avery McTaggart, partner, TBA Agency.
The clearest measure of the TBA Agency, launched last year by partners Avery McTaggart, Marshall Betts, Amy Davidman, Ryan Craven, and Devin Landau, is that after the Paradigm Talent Agency was blown apart due to the impact of COVID-19 resulting in major layoffs, nearly all of the partner’s artists and managers chose to come to TBA.
“The founding of TBA is an exciting development for artists and managers who like to work with forward-thinking, hungry and independent teams,” wrote Nick O’Byrne and Katie Besgrove, Courtney Barnett’s managers.
Situated in New York and Los Angeles, TBA’s partners came together following a massive 2020 layoff at Paradigm because of a shared belief that there was a clear space in the American agency ecosystem for an agile, independent company that could operate in a tougher, more competitive music climate.
That could help clients chase their dreams and goals, and be able to facilitate plans, negotiate deals, and attract whatever partners are needed, be it in booking dates, or with brand, and film and TV synch opportunities.
As Avery McTaggart mentions his artist clients, he speaks of how he firmly believes in them, and he speaks with considerable clarity about how musicality, individuality, and strategic team coordination affect careers.
Much of McTaggart’s viewpoint is formed from him being a pivotal player in America’s booking world since beginning his career in 2008 at The Kork Agency in San Francisco. Kork merged with the Agency Group (TAG) that year, and McTaggart re-located to Los Angeles. Next came a stint at The Windish Agency that led to him working at Paradigm, and then to launching TBA.
At the core of TBA is its formidable roster of more than 200 artists that includes: Courtney Barnett, Alvvays, Remi Wolf, JAWNY, Jay Som, Julia Jacklin, Guided By Voices, Jungle, Mura Masa, Yaeji, Hot Chip, Bob Moses, Chvrches, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tune-Yards, Pink Martini, Hiatus Kaiyote, Cut Copy, José González, Beirut, Tycho, Cuco, Helado Negro, Ana Tijoux, Pabllo Vittar, Boy Pablo, Nicola Cruz, Ed Maverick, Faye Webster, Orion Sun, Sudan Archives, Hope Tala, and others.
Visibly enthusiastic about TBA’s partners, staff, and clients, McTaggart acknowledges they now operate in a tougher, more competitive world due to COVID-19, and the impact of industry-wide consolidations, and staff downsizing in recent years. On the other hand, the 16-member TBA team, he emphasizes, encourages clients to embrace whatever opportunities are now available.
In last year’s press release announcing the launch of TBA you were quoted as saying about live events that the “landscape had changed.”
In what way has it changed, and is the change due to COVID-19 or from the business evolving over the past decade?
I think COVID has exacerbated some of the underlying shifts that were happening, but we’ve seen a decade or so of really aggressive consolidations, specifically in the agency space. Sort of the pendulum swing of any business sector. A lot of money came into that space which fueled consolidation and which created an opportunity for other businesses, and other business models to emerge. It’s less than a case of trying to compare every agency to each other, and more of a case that there should be a range of options for customers, essentially; and in this case, the customer being an artist. I think that simple fact was coming even pre-pandemic, and then the wrecking ball (of the COVID-19 pandemic) that came through our business accelerated that process.
As a result, you have not only new companies emerging, but movement between agencies, and agencies refocusing their offerings, and approaches in a way that I ultimately think is very helpful. By and large, I feel especially with touring coming back and the general health of agencies coming back, that there are a lot of individual agents that are just in a much better place than they were before.
Whether they are at a new company or they have moved agencies. Having those agents situated in a way that allows them to do better work for their artists is always an ideal thing.
There has also been in recent years the consolidation of live event promoters. In particular, Live Nation and AEG Live have each grown with a number of independent regional promoters coming under them.
The market dominance of Live Nation and AEG Live in the U.S., and the impact of the 2010 merger between Live Nation, and Ticketmaster continues to cause concern with some members of Congress. Is there still room for mid-sized independent promoters?
Definitely. The forces that have driven the consolidation on the promoter side, especially coming out of the pandemic, are in some way different, and in some ways similar, but there are differences, especially when it comes to the amount of capital required to own, build, and maintain a venue property up through the rest of that side of their promotional business. But I do feel that very much so that there is a lane (for independent promoters) and there is a real business to be had there in what they are offering artists and the service that they are providing, especially in the context of AEG and Live Nation having real market dominance.
The bigger promoters do have the advantage of being able to book an entire tour through one booking person. But independent promoters can still build strong relationships with artists, agents, and managers by booking artists for multiple shows, or booking multiple artists from the same agent or manager. Working with independent venues in multiple markets can also allow them to provide artists opportunities to book tours or tour segments.
Again I don’t think that (the dominance of AEG Live and Live Nation) precludes an independent company from being able to operate and, in a lot of ways, being able to differentiate their offering to some extent so it might be more attractive to certain artists in certain situations. We happily work with a lot of independent promoters that have certainly been weathering the same thing that we all have but have continued to see their businesses come back and be very valuable in the broader ecosystem of our artist touring career.
I smiled when I read of TBA’s launch with the principals from Paradigm Talent Agency being yourself, Marshall Betts, Amy Davidman, Ryan Craven, and Devin Landau joined by Head of Artist Creative Strategy, Samantha Tacón, and Head of Marketing, Katie Nowak because the agency is very strategically balanced, and diversified, particularly by bringing in Samantha and Katie, but you are also working with some old agent friends.
You and Ryan have been together since working at the Kork Agency, and you, Marshall, Ryan, and Amy worked together at the Windish Agency.
The five partners are all equal?
Why not a single head?
I put this company together in a way where we, in reference to past situations, did not want to be subject to the whims of one person deciding the fate of a group of people. Amongst the five of us, we have a very efficient system worked out in terms of how we manage the company, and how we make decisions. Still, it is not like the five of us have to call a vote every time we want to buy new phones or something. It is certainly not clunky. But the way that we are structured is to have five people participating in the operation, and in the ownership of the company, and having those voices being heard is extremely valuable to one of our broad goals of having the company grow in a very particular, and stable way is making sure it passes the smell test of five people and not one. That’s something that has been, and I believe will continue to be a real important part of the company. It’s not just one person’s ideas guiding the business. We are all very happy with that arrangement, and so far, I feel it has really benefited us and will continue to.
What financing is behind the company?
I don’t want to say too much about the financial structure of the company other than to say to employ people during a time when touring didn’t exist that there was some money needed.
Did you have investors?
I think I would prefer to not talk about that.
How is the company set up with offices?
We are in an office in New York, and we are looking at opening in L.A. at the top of 2022. Currently, the L.A. folks are working from home. Most days I’m home in Venice Beach.
How about an office abroad?
Given our long careers and experiences as agents, we have relationships with a lot of European agents at different companies that we work with very effectively. In terms of TBA having a presence there (in Europe), we are not going to do something until we can do it very, very well. We are certainly not opening a London office in a couple of months. It is not out of the question, but the conditions would need to make sense for us to take that step. We would also need to be convinced that we could do it as well as we are doing things here. In short, we feel we are doing very effective work with our artists by working with their agents in other territories, and we don’t see a need to tinker with that right now.
You’ve gone through a number of agency changes in your career.
It has just been one email change after another. When this opportunity came up, it felt very much like if there is going to be another consolidation or sale or merger happening now, it is going to be on my terms, not on someone else’s terms. That feels very good for us. We are now running the show, as you said, with a group of people we all have a lot of deep shared history with. It was an important factor in being able to put this company together both quickly, and effectively. There were a lot of built-in, multi-year relationships that were leaned on to be able to get on the same page to launch the business, especially during a time that was certainly not ideal to launch an agency.
Looking back at your work career, The Kork Agency merged in 2008 with the Agency Group (TAG), which was then acquired by In 2015 by the United Talent Agency, and, In 2017, AM Only and The Windish Agency formally became known as Paradigm Talent Agency, after partnerships in 2012 and 2015, respectively.
In large part of how we ended up here is that I worked at The Agency Group. I was in college, and I was a part-time assistant at Kork. I graduated in May. I think I worked there for four months and (Kork Agency owner) Christian Bernhardt came to us and said, “Well, I sold the company to the Agency Group.” I had never heard of the Agency Group. I was only 22. Basically, it was “If you want a job you can move to L.A.” And yes, that started my career, but also the never-ending Russian doll of consolidations that I have been through until very recently.
Then Tom Windish called, saying, “I have a job for you working from my house in Echo Park, overlooking the lake.” Basically, Tom had been running his agency out of the spare bedroom with one employee. In time, Windish Agency repped Diplo, Hot Chip, Kid Koala, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Low, and St. Germain. While Tom worked upstairs in the master bedroom, the first floor had a giant dining room table, and some desks for agents to work. You’d take meetings, and walk around the lake.
Those years working in that office, they were very fun years. Not having a real office when we had to talk on the phone, I learned a lot during that time.
Tom is known for giving his staff a lot of leeway.
Sometimes you realize how much you have learned, in hindsight. When I came to Windish, it was sort of right in the beginning of the company’s softest growth. It was very exciting in a lot of ways. Then it also became unwieldy in a lot of other ways. But I started working there up through the Paradigm merger for several years, and at the time going with the flow, booking artists, and learning. Certainly, in the place that I am in now, I look back at a lot of that time and look at the moves that he was making, and definitely I learned from them, and I have a lot of valuable insight into the path of TBA moving forward.
I imagine that after Paradigm’s giant layoff in mid-March 2020, you would have almost immediately been drawn to speak to Ryan, Amy, and Marshall about launching TBA, given how long the three of you have worked together since being at the Windish Agency.
There was a period of time where—I forget what we called the call, but even before the real nucleus of TBA was formed, there was from the day after the Paradigm staff layoff in March 2020, there was a daily call with all of the agents who had been laid off. We would basically get on Zoom at noon, and talk about what we were hearing, what was going on, and what were people thinking. That was 40 or 50 people sitting on Zoom talking about what on earth was happening in relation to being laid off. But also I have to frame it in that here were people with families. It was just a mess. One part career chat, and one part group pandemic therapy. Things progressed and evolved. Slowly people would drop off the calls. So and so is going to go and do this or do that. Over time, people started to form groups, and then conversations changed. That period of time is such a blur. The five of us who put TBA together don’t in all honesty remember there being one conversation (about launching TBA), “This is the day” or “This is what’s happening.” It came about from the mess of all of that somehow.
Principals affect the shape of an agency, but do the clients themselves not shape any new agency?
In large part, we did, and continue to, spend a lot of time thinking about who we represent, how we want to represent them, who we want to represent in the future, and about shaping a company that achieves both of the goals that I set out before. In terms, if you want to call it the company’s culture and presence, but equally making sure that the service that we provide, yes, it is entirely geared around who we represent. I think people make that mistake a lot in talking about agencies as “the agents.” At the end of the day, I am just a guy with artists that I have had the privilege of working with for over a decade. It was very nice to have that time to really put together a very strategic plan about what this company would look like from Day One, and what it would look like after a year into year two. I think we are very much on track for where we wanted to be up to now.
There are 200 artists on the roster, and there’s a brand and TV/film component that might have been overlooked with a new agency out of the box. So TBA is a company very strategically put together, down to the point of recruiting Samantha Tacón as Head of Artist Creative Strategy, Katie Nowak, as Head of Marketing, and Director, Creative Partnerships Content.
I definitely don’t want to gloss over the booking side of it, but that was of paramount importance to us, especially because we knew that we were going to be launching the company mid-pandemic when touring, at that point in September 2020 was entirely uncertain. Samantha and I had a relationship from working together at Paradigm, and Katie had worked with us at Windish, and at Paradigm before going to AEG.
(Samantha Tacón served in different executive positions at Paradigm for nearly 9 years including Coordinator, and then manager of Business Strategy + Communications. There she oversaw key components in working out the mergers of Windish Agency, AM Only, Coda, and X-Ray Touring with Paradigm; and oversaw artist-based projects with Netflix, Gucci, Microsoft, Adidas, Balenciaga, and HBO. She is also the founder of the strategy consultancy firm, Ditto Studio.
As a marketing strategist, Katie Nowak served as Tour Marketing Director at Paradigm, and CAA, respectively. Her most recent position was as Marketing Director for AEG Global Touring where she oversaw the live marketing campaigns for artists, including Sturgill Simpson, Tyler, The Creator, ILLENIUM, and Juice WRLD.)
They are absolutely invaluable, but particularly during the mid-pandemic when there were a lot of conversations about, “Oh, is touring going to come back?” When we were rescheduling dates over and over again. We were also able to sit down with our artists, and navigate the live stream space, the brand partnership space. We were able to help deliver a lot of opportunities, and revenue to clients when their touring was entirely up in the air. I felt strongly about that as a necessary side of the company long-term, but it also felt it was an important component to have knowing that we were going to be continuing to service our clients when most of them their primary revenue driver, being touring income, was going to be non-existent.
Being a musician herself, Samantha can meet with managers and artists and say, “Where is your career at now? What do you want to do? We don’t have touring right now, but what do we do until it comes back? Are there things you are doing that we can support you?” I imagine those were the kind of conversations that went on with her and TBA clients over the past year.
Absolutely. It was almost like taking touring out of the conversation for a minute, and saying, “Let’s talk about what else can we do right now.” There was a lot of great work done in that time; whether that it was shorter-term opportunities like having artists doing virtual events, but also doing brand partnerships, and other opportunities. Really diving in with artists on some of their other creative ambitions that they were spending time focusing on when they weren’t on the road. Whether that was longer-term goals around developing content for a TV show or scoring for film, and making inroads for artists and their teams on some of those projects. We saw a lot of artists sidelined from touring, which was disastrous in a lot of ways. But it also meant that they, like the rest of us, were at home, and wanted to be active, wanted to be working. It was really important for us to meet them in that position and say, “Look we can talk all day about when we think touring is going to come back, but if you want to engage with something else we are here for that.” I wanted that to be provided from Day One. I felt very fortunate that Samantha was able to join our team, and really shore up that side of the offering.
At the same table, there would be the artist manager with a client not touring, and with no income coming in. At least, due to the internet-driven disruption in music for the past two decades, and now with the pandemic, many managers are more cognizant of many of the career-building opportunities available outside traditional pathways.
You have identified one of the particular circumstances of this time. That suddenly there was a whole host of new opportunities in the live stream space, and what else artists could be doing. Some managers were very out in front of that, and knew exactly what was going on and were very involved in steering their artists toward some of those things, and others did rely on our help or their label’s help in navigating that period of time. We really designed our service and offering here to be able to meet the needs of managers and artists on a constant spectrum. We are happy to meet them where help is needed.
As the gulf between the music and technology communities lessened in recent years, more managers seem to take a holistic approach to their client’s careers.
Absolutely, but I also think that goes back to one of your first questions which was about the changing landscape of the industry, outside the mechanics of consolidation. As you laid out, you see real interconnectivity between how artists now promote themselves, how they tour– all facets of their career which used to be treated as these departments within a career. We deal with these things differently now. When I say we want to meet artists where our help is fruitful for them, we want to lean into that, and into that evolution, and that change. We don’t view all of the pieces as being separate. We want to be involved in how music is released, how the artist is promoting themselves and touring. We view all of these as one cohesive package that we are in support of beyond just, “Here’s your tour, and have a great month on the road.” This is where the business will continue to head, and I feel it’s important to be agile within the vary rapidly changing way artists develop, and how their careers are developed. We want to be constantly meeting that circumstance, and not be chasing it in an outdated model of working.
While TBA has a number of major acts including The War on Drugs, Courtney Barnett, Chvrches, Hot Chip, Tune-Yards, Guided by Voices, Cut Copy, José González, Beirut, Tycho, Toro Y Moi, Pink Martini, and Caribou, a good proportion of the TBA’s roster is slightly below the radar, but on the verge of individual breakthroughs.
We are extremely blessed across our roster to have a number of established names, but something that has come out of this first year at TBA is all of the agents’ excitement about our developing artists. I’ll speak for myself. I feel a much greater excitement, and appetite for that development process in the way that we are doing it here than I have in recent times. Again, it’s about the way that the business is structured, and the way that we are set up. We can, and want to take risks on very, very new artists. Be there from Day One, and work with them on their first shows, all the way up to them doing very well, and having long careers. We are in a great position to be doing that right now. We have the infrastructure, the resources, and the scalability to be able to give equal time to a project that isn’t making an immediate large financial return, but which we really believe in. We have a team that has the time and scope to be able to attend to those developing acts as much as they do to our more established clients. That is a change. I can’t tell you how good it feels knowing that when we sign an artist they are going to receive the same attention, and level of detail and strategy, and care that our most established artists do. That is a very fundamentally important part of TBA to me.
So TBA is seeking out new talent?
All the time. As I said, that is the real lifeblood and core of the business. There are the people running the company, but we are here because of the artists. My ears have never been more open than they are now. It’s an incredibly exciting time in music. There’s a lot happening right now that we are a part of, and artists that we are not part of that I’m incredibly excited and motivated by. Certainly, that is what keeps us going here.
You have a long and rich agent history of working with some very cool acts in your career. Going back to the Kork Agency where you worked with the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, I Break Horses, Magic Kids, STRFKR, and Light Asylum.
Your own roster at TBA includes Jungle, Mura Masa, Yaeji, Hot Chip, Bob Moses, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tune-Yards, Priya Ragu, Sinead O’Brien, and Miya Folick to name but a few.
Plus you share representation of Ela Minus with Devin Landau, and Superorganism with Marshall Betts; and you work with Josh Mulder representing Remi Wolf, Hope Tala, Hether, Hana Vu, and Ethel Cain.
I have a number of artists like STRFKR that you mentioned that I have worked with since I was at Kork. Over time I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to work with a group of artists that I feel very personally committed to and musically love, and that I have seen really grow over the course of 5 and 10 years. It is an absolute pleasure to work with Hot Chip. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, we have had an incredible time working together. (Korean singer) Yaeji, I have worked with for a number of years. I am very excited about her upcoming plans. Jungle, seeing them play in L.A. at The Echo to two sold-out nights at the Greek Theatre, that is a special feeling. Mura Masa (Guernsey-born singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Alex Crossan) will be coming back next year, I have worked with him for many years. And obviously, Remi Wolf is an incredibly exciting project right now. She’s just an absolutely brilliant artist. She has a very real career ahead of her. People are starting to understand what we have known about her for a couple of years now. It is such a great feeling when you really know and believe in someone’s talent, and then many thousands of other people start to pay attention.
There are continuing media and industry reports of live music coming back. As clubs, arenas, and concert halls are grappling with shifting safety regulations and a backlog of rescheduled shows, music fans have returned to a changed industry landscape, including smaller, socially distanced shows.
Even with quarantines lifted, it’s difficult to predict with any accuracy when people will feel secure enough to congregate. Everybody is already looking ahead to 2022 when the concert business is expected to be fully back to normal.
Are we coming back now?
Yes, definitely. I think cautiously that over the last couple of months, especially over the summer with limited indoor engagements, I feel like we are seeing touring return in a lot of ways to a relatively normal space. Certainly, with a lot of asterisks attached to it. Both in terms of the different logistical hurdles of the patchwork and regulations and policies within different states and counties. And then, of course, with the real impacts of the Delta variant, and both audience appetite, and also on the artists’ appetite and comfort level with touring. The short answer is yes; the longer answer is that it is complicated.
The limited return of shows is presenting logistical and financial strains for both artists and venues.
It’s understandable that some promoters and club owners are pushing for better terms because the pandemic has been financially crushing for them because their venues had mostly been sitting dark for 18 months while still, perhaps, they have been paying rents, and for a skeleton staff. Plus they’ve had the costs of start-up again and becoming COVID proof. So they are trying to make up lost money. At the same time, many of them still don’t have full capacity audiences.
Right. In a lot of cases, venues are back to full capacity. I should also note that I speak for myself and for my colleagues here, we are certainly are not unsympathetic to the position that promoters have been in at all, it is just a matter of proceeding from this point in a way that treats situations with equal fairness; both to the promoters who have had the impact that you described, but artists were also dark for 18 months, and had tours canceled.
So in my mind, it is really a process of how we all come out of this, but with an eye to long-term fairness, making sure that there aren’t permanent changes that we are going to be living in with some of these deals 5 years from now when things are back to normal, and financial stability has been re-achieved. It’s not so much a matter of trying to gouge someone right now or structure a deal that is insensitive to anyone’s position. It’s thinking a bit longer-term about what’s good.
Some venues have added COVID fees as part of the total charges for artists ranging from $1,000 to $2,000, depending on numerous factors including the size of the venue, and the size of the audience likely to attend.
Yes, and that’s a conversation that we are having. A lot of venues, as we returned to touring, were attaching all kinds of abstract figures to what they thought they might need for COVID measures before we knew what that might realistically be. We are still seeing those on offers well into next year. Certainly, as agents, we want to make sure that measures are being taken to keep the audience, and the touring party safe but equally, we also need to scrutinize what money is being spent. Sometimes, it is hard to understand or justify what $2,000 of “COVID cleaning” is going towards.
There’s a long tradition in live music of promoters boosting costs for marketing and catering.
Well right, and that is a concern that applies to a lot of contract negotiations right now; where the real matter at hand is how COVID impacts shows, and on touring, and how that needs to be accounted for in terms of a budgetary perspective. But we also have seen an erosion of other terms that frankly don’t have much to do with COVID at the same time. Other cancellation terms for the weather or whatever. It’s like, “Hold on a second.”
Shows are happening where many of the ticket holders haven’t turned up after buying tickets in advance. Artists playing to 25% and 35% capacity of houses.
Yes. That is definitely has particularily impacted on the rescheduled shows. I had a show in Denver that had a 22% show rate recently. It was a sold-out show. It has definitely had an impact, and certainly, it has had an impact on venues. But with artists, the tickets have been sold so the deal on paper at least looks like a sold-out show. But certainly for the venues that is an issue if they have several hundred to a couple thousand people not showing up. On a case-by-case basis, we are looking at ways to offset that. We are starting to oversell shows on paper, but in practice, have a full venue.
When venues don’t have a full house, they are losing income from food and beverage services.
At the same time, artists are losing merchandise sales.
How is merchandise being handled at venues now with the COVID restrictions. The idea of standing with 40 other fans clamoring for a T-shirt isn’t appealing. Nor safe.
No. For the most part pretty much for all of my tours we have utilized in-venue merch sales. Instead of having someone from the tour selling the merch we have someone locally at each venue selling it. My touring parties have remained quite isolated. Meet-and-greets aren’t happening. There’s not a bunch of people backstage after the shows. It’s a rather somber affair backstage.
How does that feel? One of the highlights of live events is the backstage activity buzz.
The artists and the crews are just extremely happy to be back to work. I think we can put off the big backstage energy for a bit longer while we make it through this period of time. So, just the simple excitement of being able to be back on the road and back to work seems to be enough for most people right now.
Touring and shows are usually stressful, but with all the COVD restrictions involved from the start-up to the end of the night, and onto the next show, it’s now immensely stressful for all involved.
Absolutely. We see varying degrees of sensitivity among touring partners to the conditions that they are touring in. For the most part, people are very aware of the risks inherent in touring right now. Not only to the health of the touring party but there’s also an enormous financial risk. If you are halfway through a tour that has to cancel, that’s financially ruinous for pretty much any artist of any size. So people are generally very happy to keep the backstage, and the tour party pretty isolated so the tour can continue.
If an artist loses even two or three dates from a 30 date tour that could be the difference between a full tour’s profit margin or even recouping costs.
Exactly, if the profit is wrapped up in a handful of shows. So if those go away it’s a big, big problem.
On Friday, March 13th, 2020, the President of the United States Donald Trump declared a National Emergency concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease Outbreak.
This was the instant Americans started to feel serious about the COVID-19 pandemic. Between the worrisome headlines, and the drastic measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 that followed, the virus became a stressor for everyone.
Meanwhile, 250 staffers of a work force of 600 at the Paradigm Talent Agency were laid off within a week in what Paradigm called “a temporary layoff.”
Paradigm was first to deliver a shock wave throughout the industry with its mid-March announcement. The unprecedented shutdown/postponement of live entertainment that followed was unanimous and worldwide, leading to a series of financial moves by others designed to protect their businesses against the closedown as concerts and sporting events were canceled.
You were one of the 250 staffers let go?
Paradigm was particularly quick to temporarily lay off 250 employees at the start of the shutdown, with Sam Gores, chairman of Paradigm Talent Agency, coming under fire for the way in which those layoffs were handled.
Staffers complained they did not receive any severance, and Gores later said those employees did not receive severance because they were not fired, and the company hoped to hire them back.
We did not receive severance. In April, they created an Employee Relief Fund that laid-off employees could elect to receive payments from which lasted a couple of months.
Meanwhile, employees weren’t allowed in the Paradigm offices?
Correct. However, that was true of everyone in the industry due to the pandemic.
Paradigm email accounts were suspended?
Our emails were turned off the same day we were laid off. We did not have access to those accounts from that point forward.
Meanwhile, you and other agents throughout were already rescheduling tours, dealing with venues and managers while working from home. Trying to work through what being laid off (and not fired) meant. As an agent with a roster, what do you do next? Who do you call? What do you tell them?
Absolutely. Yeah, it was completely shocking. There’s plenty of information out there about what exactly led to Paradigm doing that.
But the impact on a personal level?
Well, it was completely shocking on a personal level. I was very much attuned to the broader implications, and impact because I’ve been doing this for quite a long time. I had relationships, and continue to have relationships with clients who frankly don’t really give a shit what my email address is. They work with me. So I was able to pick up the pieces relatively quickly. At the same time, I thought a lot about people who were not in the same position that I was; that, maybe, had been working in the business for a year or two. That were at the beginning of their careers or were in tour marketing, and were getting themselves established doing that. That was really shocking to me as well. I immediately felt very sympathetic towards people who didn’t necessarily have a roster attached to them; that allowed me and others to continue on in the way that we have. It (the layoff) definitely has had a very real immediate financial impact, but also a longer-term career impact on people who have only been doing this for a couple of years. That felt, and continues to feel very unfortunate; that a lot of those people were unfortunately dispatched with, and it has continued to impact a lot of them.
Following the announcement, were you on the phone the next day tracking down managers to let them know whist was going on at Paradigm and discussing their own situations? Assuring them that you were trying to work everything to continue?
The next day after being laid off, I was still moving tour dates around, and getting on with it. Basically, the news got out pretty quickly. I was following the layoffs, and those conversations started. TBA certainly didn’t exist. Not a lot existed or was certain. There really was a couple of months where it was about rescheduling dates, and talking about what was going to happen, and watching the news, and pouring hot water over the vegetables you brought home from the store. Just like what everybody else. I was figuring it out.
The clearest measure of TBA is that the five principals were able to mostly retain their individual rosters. Few artists stayed back.
There were a couple who didn’t come but, by and large, we kept our rosters in place. In a lot of ways, you also have to put it in the context that these artists and managers were essentially in a very similar headspace at that time. It was right at the beginning, “Okay this is a pandemic. The restaurant is closed, the venue is closed, this show is canceled.” Really, in a lot of ways, the people who were laid off at Paradigm certainly were the ones that delivered the first (industry) punch in some ways, especially on the agency side. However, a lot of those conversations were me talking to people who in a large part were feeling the same way. If you had an artist who had a tour starting on say April 14th that year, we had already been talking about what was going to come of that. In a lot of ways, artists and managers and the whole ecosystem were essentially being laid off as well from touring. it was not like I was the only adversely affected person on the phone. I don’t want to say that made things easier, but I also think that there was a real feeling coming together, of teams coming together; whether you remained employed or not, and trying to figure this out.
Numerous other agencies were also blown apart, forced to make do with stripped-down staffs, as layoffs and furloughs piled up, even affecting agents that had viable, ticket-selling clients.
Absolutely. During that period, the conversations weren’t one-sided as if I was the only person affected. It was really a collective effort into figuring out what was going to be next and, then in time, being able to share with people what my plans were which I had the fortunate blessing of having almost all of my artists come along for it. And now here we are.
At the same time, you weren’t alone. The mass redundancies at the Paradigm also led to Arrival Artists being launched late last year by former employees of the company, agents Erik Selz, Ali Hedrick, John Bongiorno, Karl Morse, and Ethan Berlin teaming up with former Billions Corporation COO Matt Yasecko.
Everybody was trying to figure out what were the new business dynamics.
Exactly, and that was true also for the folks at Paradigm who weren’t laid off. It was very apparent I think to everyone that after the layoffs happened in March that Paradigm was not going to be able to exist as it was before. In speaking with my former colleagues, and still friends there, they were thrown in to an almost equal period of uncertainty, talking to their managers and artists about what was happening. What happened with Paradigm, as we both have noted, was a shock to everybody. There were a lot of people didn’t view that move particularily kindly but there were some real financial reasons that it happened.
Problems at Paradigm began before the pandemic.
Departures from Paradigm began around the end of 2019. A half a dozen people left for a variety of reasons including attrition, and there were reports of financial challenges, and a subsequent disputed lawsuit with a former senior staffer. In 2019, United Talent Agency attempted to buy the company, only for talks to fizzle. CAA had engaged in exploratory discussions in early 2020, but Gores said his agency was not for sale.
Paradigm had bulked up with a number of acquisitions of music booking agencies and artist management boutiques in recent years leaving it with substantial debt to service.
Then, in mid-January, 2020, Paradigm said it would lay off 30 people, including music agents.
Nevertheless, Paradigm’s management kept its structural problems away from the industry.
In hindsight, the abrupt end of the touring business left Paradigm in a financial pinch, but also the company got too big.
Well, it’s pretty apparent that was the case. And that the general population of employees didn’t know about what was happening with the company. I still don’t know exactly what was going on there that led to a couple of rounds of layoffs leading to the big bomb dropped in March. I was not intimately involved in the operations of that company.
As Paradigm severed its music operation, Casey Wasserman launched Wasserman Music on the back of Paradigm’s former music division. To nobody’s surprise, Wasserman Music is headed by music business veterans Marty Diamond, Jonathan Levine, Jackie Nalpant, Sam Hunt, Corrie Martin, Lee Anderson, Matt Rodriguez, Tom Windish, Joe Rosenberg, Lori Feldman, and Shannon Casey. The company has about 130 employees overall.
And leading up to today, if the CAA-ICM megamerger closes, there may be yet another round of layoffs, and agents who will have to reevaluate career plans.
As TBA grows, it may one day face similar conditions that toppled some of the agencies you have worked at, including Paradigm.
I just think that again though that it really speaks to that experience and, in particular, in terms of wanting to make sure that not just for myself but for my partners and also for our staff at TBA as we grow I don’t ever want to put somebody in a position where their employment here is precarious. That we are structured to be stable. Certainly, God forbid that we all have to weather another pandemic, but a lesson has been learned in how you structure and grow a business. Obviously, growth is extremely important. TBA will need to grow, and grow aggressively to survive. But I don’t want that ever to be pushed to a point that puts the fundamental stability of the company at risk. Should there be ebbs and flows in income or some other unforeseen circumstance like the one that we are still plowing our way through. That is not something that you put in a press release but…..
Oh, c’mon. In last year’s press release announcement of TBA’s launch, you said, “We don’t want to be a corporate, faceless entity, and know that’s not a requirement to operate at the highest level.”
(Laughing). Well yes. That’s a nice one-liner but, maybe, it doesn’t give a fuller explanation. Yeah, we are very much committed to growth, and enhancing the services that we provide, and also we want to be a great employer. I think for the 16 of us now it has really been a complete change in how we feel about going to work. I want that to continue just as much as I want moiré agents and more artists, all of the usual things that people who run companies want to see. I also want and I am committed to this place being a good place to go to work every day.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.